Out of Time at the La Brea Tar Pits: People and Other Animals in a Time Capsule of Ice Age Los Angeles

Alison Laurence


At the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, proximity to active asphalt seeps blurs the boundary between audience and exhibit and troubles the artificial border between people and other animals. While La Brea exclusively exhibits extinct animal models in the park, leading some visitors to see extinction events as existing at a safe distance, the asphalt continues to entrap contemporary creatures and functions as a change-over-time capsule. Uncomfortably close encounters with the asphalt cue visitors to situate themselves within La Brea’s ecological continuum and convey the urgency of environmental issues at present. Informed by archival research and site visits, this article deploys a non-linear narrative sequence to mirror the muddling of time in the tar pits. La Brea has the potential to decentre human visitors and help them to embrace the obligations of heir and ancestor all at once.


proximity, public park, natural history, fossils, extinction

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.29311/mas.v20i1.3798

Copyright (c) 2022 Alison Laurence

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Museum and Society

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